In President Barack Obama's moving eulogy from Charleston, he talked about horrific atrocities like the shooting that took nine lives in Emanuel A.M.E. church and the rampant violence that exists in communities all across our country.
As I sat among the thousands who filled the "church pews" in the College of Charleston arena, I wondered if my congressional colleagues sitting with me felt as uncomfortable as I did at that moment, knowing that we have let America down when it comes to addressing the gun violence epidemic in too many of our neighborhoods, that to do justice to the lives of the "Charleston nine" we must tackle this plague.
President Obama is right: We need more than talk. We need more than another moment of silence. We need a real, sustained commitment to getting handguns and assault weapons off of our streets. Here's how we do it.
It starts with standing up to the National Rifle Association, a special interest group that has perverted its mission to represent responsible gun owners, preying on fear to advance the gun industry's political agenda. After the senseless school shooting in Newtown, Conn., the NRA's callous response was a bid for funding to arm our educators. As the dead were mourned in Charleston, an NRA board member blamed the pastor of Emanuel A.M.E, who was also killed, for voting down "conceal and carry" laws in our churches. Guns in a house of worship is not a solution. I've had everyday NRA members in Maryland tell me that the NRA no longer stands for them. We cannot allow gun industry funded groups masquerading as citizen organizations to stoke fear and violence in our communities. It's time to end the fear, expose the rhetoric and bring safety back to our neighborhoods, our schools and our churches, synagogues, mosques and temples.
Second, we need to write and pass real gun laws that will actually prevent gun violence in our country — no more talk. Action. We know which guns are the criminals' weapons of choice, so let's ban them from sale and possession. Let's ban the high-capacity magazines that were used to kill 20 children in Newtown. Let's ban the AR-15 and the military style semi-automatic weapons like the one that killed 12 moviegoers in Aurora, Colo. Washington politicians on both sides of the aisle need to end the empty talk, close gun loopholes and find the courage to stand up to the NRA so that we can actually reduce gun violence in our communities.
Third, we need to stop people from getting guns who shouldn't have guns. When I talk to everyday Marylanders — from rural Allegany County to inner city Baltimore — they almost all agree that this is just plain common sense. But too many lawmakers — Democrats and Republicans alike — won't take it on. For starters, no domestic abuser should be able to get their hands on a gun. No one with a serious mental illness should be able to arm themselves. Federal gun trafficking laws need to inflict jail time on perpetrators, not slap-on-the-wrist fines that are equivalent to illegally trafficking chickens. Stop the sales on the Internet and in parking lots to people who would otherwise be prohibited from purchasing or possessing a gun. And make background checks and registration meaningful from one state to the next.
It is time to come to grips with the realization that stemming the massive flow of illegal and legal guns into our cities is a fight for the lives of our mothers, fathers, sons and daughters. It's a fight that we as legislators have a duty to wage and win, regardless of political calculation.
We have to take on the NRA with the force of a nation under siege and the passion of a people committed to ridding our country of a dangerous and deadly gun epidemic.
Doing all this won't bring back the lives we lost in Charleston or Newtown or Aurora or Everytown, USA. It won't solve all our problems overnight. But it will let families of the 30 Americans who die every single day of gun violence know that this country is ready for more than a moment of silence. We are ready to take action.
Rep. Donna F. Edwards, a Prince George's County Democrat, is running for U.S. Senate. Her email is firstname.lastname@example.org.